With the high costs of post secondary education that students face, access to free textbooks seems like a dream too good to be true. Before you rush to the bookstore this fall, look a little closer at your syllabi. For some students, this dream is becoming a reality.
Over the summer, the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union has promoted the use of open textbooks, while the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning has supported instructors as they work to create, adapt and adopt more open textbooks into U of S curricula.
Jessica Quan, vice-president academic affairs, has taken on the role of advocate for the open-textbook initiative and will be working throughout the school year to promote the process as well as celebrate the achievements that the university has already made.
Quan explains what the open textbook initiative entails.
“Open textbooks, simply put, are free textbooks that are made through a collaborative process,” Quan said. “There are three components to implementing open textbooks — creation, adaptation and adoption.”
In the context of open textbooks, each of these terms has a particular meaning. Creation takes place when a professor or faculty member actually writes the textbook for their class. Adaptation is the editing and modifying of existing open textbooks to make them more suitable for a particular class. Adoption is the process a professor undertakes when switching from a regular textbook to an open one.
Open textbooks are a collaborative process in that they have a Creative Commons license, which allows others to access, distribute and borrow from them. There are already open textbooks in universities all over British Columbia and Alberta, and the trend is just starting to take off in the rest of Canada.
Going into the 2017-18 school year, 25 courses at the U of S use open textbooks, five of which were created by faculty and professors at the university. The courses that have switched to open textbooks range across colleges and departments, existing in the Colleges of Arts and Science, Agriculture, Engineering, Nursing, Medicine, the Edwards School of Business and the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.
Four thousand students are currently enrolled in the 25 courses that offer open textbooks, collectively saving about $400,000 on course material this year, and about $800,000 since the project began in January 2015.
The Gwenna Moss Centre is working with faculty and professors in each department in order to get resources to create and adapt an open-textbook system across the university. Students can access a list of textbooks available at the U of S on the Gwenna Moss Centre website.
Although there are some challenges, such as the amount of unpaid work that needs to go into creating and adapting open textbooks, Quan believes that the more the university invests in open textbooks, the more accessible they will be to students, which will help offset some of the other major expenses that students face.
“With the budget cuts that the university is taking, our tuition will inevitably go up, and costs will go up, and there’s going to be a lot of different cuts that will affect students,” Quan said. “The least that can be done is to mitigate some other costs that students have to face, such as textbooks.”
Free textbooks for all is a dream that might never fully come true, as some classes just aren’t conducive to using open textbooks. However, the university is working towards switching most first-year classes to open textbooks, a plan which will create the most savings for students over all.
Anything that the university can do to help ease the financial burden on students is worth pursuing. Open textbooks are already creating savings for students. Even if free textbooks for all classes is an impossible dream, an increase in classes that adopt free textbooks will at least take some of the financial burden off some students.
Four thousand students and $400,000 worth of savings is a great start at the U of S. Hopefully, with the work the USSU and the Gwenna Moss Centre are doing, there will be even more savings next year.
Photo: Jiem Carlo Narag / Photo Editor